Issue January 13, 2009

Chatham County Line

Chatham County Line

This reissue of Raleigh, N.C.’s Chatham County Line’s first album contains all the hallmarks of what you’ve come to expect from bluegrass: plenty of space, light-speed runs and faithful covers. Among them: Ned DuRant’s “The Legend of Old 99” and Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” plus a cameo by Tift Merritt.

Born out of impromptu picking sessions at Raleigh’s infamous touring-band-crash-pad The Blue House, CCL’s debut doesn’t tread any new ground and is remedial — the overt references to Bill Monroe sound dated, an eight-minute story-song for John Hartford almost comes off as satirical, and you’re wondering whether he’s singing it as a joke or an experiment.

Now that Chatham County Line’s now on its fourth album, critiquing their debut is like a bully stealing lunch money; but there’s enough harmony, upbeat scales and carefree execution to hold your attention before you move on and buy their next three records. Lock in on “WSM 650” — likely an homage to the bluegrass underground show taped 300 feet below ground in Tennessee. Also “Butterwheel” and “Brings My Tears.”